Before you get started, make sure you have all the right equipment. I try to provide alternative solutions throughout this guide to require as little specialty equipment as possible. I mark required items below with two asterisks (**) and highly recommended items with one asterisk (*).
One of the things that intimidates a lot of people when it comes to making sourdough is the amount of time it takes from beginning to end. Preparing to bake does take a little prior planning, but executing the plan is not very difficult.
It typically takes me 48 hours from start to finish of making a batch. Below is a sample schedule I use, but you can take this as a rough guideline and adjust it to fit best within your schedule. This article provides some great alternative options as well.
These instructions will allow you to make one medium sized loaf of sourdough bread. For a beginner baker, some of the instructions may be hard to understand. I highly recommend watching a couple videos to see these techniques being demonstrated - I have provided a couple suggestions on the resources page.
If your starter is healthy and active, you can skip to the next step.
If you're starting with a "sluggish" starter (see How to Know if Sourdough Starter is Ready for Baking), or if you're not sure, it would be best to provide an additional feeding to your starter the night before you start the remaining process below (see "How to feed your starter" section below).
The morning of starting your bake, feed your starter with the high protein bread flour marked with "For Feeding" (see "How to feed your starter" on the Sourdough Starter page). After 2-5 hours, check to see if your starter is properly activated - see "How to Know if Sourdough Starter is Active" section below.
In a large bowl, with a dough whisk, mix 500g flour (marked "For Loaf") and 375g water until just fully combined. If you do not have a dough whisk, you can just use your hands. Loosely cover with some plastic wrap, and let the dough sit for 1 hour. This will allow the gluten bonds to form and other magical things that happen in what is called the autolyse process.
Add 75g of starter, 10g of salt to your dough, and fold everything in until fully incorporated. You can use a stand mixer with the dough hook if you'd like. Loosely cover and let sit for 30 minutes.
Do stretch and fold process 4 times over the next 2 hours - about 30 minutes apart.
Each set of S&F includes 4 folds - one each at the North, South, East and West sides of the dough. Wet your hands to help prevent sticking, then lift the North side of the dough with both hands and stretch the dough up high enough until you can fold it over completely to the other side of the dough in the bowl. Rotate the bowl 180° and repeat the process at the South end. Repeat the process for the East and West sides of the dough.
Now it is time to bulk ferment your dough. You will see in my recommended baking schedule that I always do this part overnight in the fridge. But if you are more of an early riser and have enough time left in the day, you can choose to bulk ferment at room temperature for 2-4 hours. Otherwise, cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap so it will not dry out, and place inside the refrigerator.
Once bulk fermentation is complete, it's time to pre-shape your dough. Turn dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly dust your hands with flour as well to help prevent sticking. Using a bench scraper, lightly turn the dough on the work surface while pulling the dough towards you until the dough is roughly the shape of a round circle. Bench rest 30 minutes, uncovered.
Dust your work surface and hands with flour, then begin shaping the dough by grabbing the bottom of your round dough, stretch it back towards your body, then up and over about 2/3 of the way to the top. Then grab the left and right sides of the dough and fold them into each other. Grab the top of the dough and start stretching and folding it down towards the bottom until have a tight ball of dough. Turn the entire ball upside down so the seams are at the bottom. Let rest on the bench for a few minutes to allow the seams to seal.
If you do not have a banneton, you can create a proofing basket by placing a tea towel in a medium sized bowl. Generously flour the lining of your proofing basket - it's important not to skimp here because you don't want your dough to stick to the linen while it's proofing. Scoop the dough up swiftly with your hand and bench knife and place into the proofing basket seam side up.
Generously flour the top and sides of the dough to help prevent sticking. Loosely cover with a tea towel.
Now it is time to let your shaped dough proof. If it is getting late in the day or you are short on time, you can place your dough in the fridge overnight to proof. Otherwise, let sit at room temperature for 2-4 hours.
The dough is ready to bake when poking it leaves a slight dent. The baking process differs a bit depending on what equipment you are using:
Remove loaf from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Cool completely, or at least 90 minutes to allow the loaf to settle.